Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck has extended 134 scholarship offers to high school juniors in recent weeks, according to 247Sports.com, taking a more aggressive approach in recruiting than his predecessors Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys.
None of Fleck’s 2018 offers, however, has gone to a player who suited up for a Minnesota high school last fall.
One Minnesota player has given the Gophers a verbal commitment — Benny Sapp III, a defensive back who recently transferred to Eden Prairie from St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Otherwise, all of Fleck’s offers have gone out of state. The trend highlights a key challenge recruiting analysts see for Fleck as he puts together his first full Gophers recruiting class.
“The tough part about recruiting at Minnesota is the 2018 in-state crop of talent is probably the weakest since I started covering the state,” said Josh Helmholdt, Midwest recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “A lot of Minnesota classes are built in your backyard, but P.J. is going to have to find talent around the country.”
Sapp, the son of the former Vikings defensive back by the same name, was a star cornerback when healthy for St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the nation’s premier high school teams. He had reported offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and others, but he has also twice torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
Now, as he gets ready to play his senior season for Eden Prairie, Sapp ranks as the second-best in-state recruit, according to 247sports, behind Marshall quarterback Trey Lance.
Lance does not have an offer from a Power Five conference school yet, according to 247sports. Woodbury defensive end David Alston, who has an Iowa State offer, ranks third on the in-state list.
Lance and Alston are among numerous players — from inside and outside Minnesota — who are scheduled to attend the Gophers’ annual “Junior Day” on Sunday. It’s a chance for recruits to get to know the new Minnesota staff, and vice versa.
Fleck has preached the importance of recruiting Minnesota and a “six- to eight-hour radius around the Twin Cities” since his arrival Jan. 6.
This week, in a session with Star Tribune reporters, Fleck made it clear his stance hasn’t changed.
“We have a huge junior day coming up this weekend, and there will be an enormous amount of Minnesota high school athletes here,” Fleck said. “I think you might see more [offers to Minnesota players] after this weekend.”
Meanwhile, Fleck has been targeting players from recruiting hotbeds such as Florida, Texas, Ohio and Georgia, along with Missouri, Illinois and other states. Fleck hasn’t shied away from top prospects, even when they have offers from some of the biggest programs in the country. Alabama, Florida State and other schools can only sign so many players, so Fleck wants to be there early for players who might be looking to go elsewhere later in the recruiting cycle.
Some highlights among the 134 (and counting) offers:
• Fleck has offered five-star prospect BJ Foster of Angleton, Texas, a 6-1 safety ranked as the 11th-best high school player in the country. Foster is expected to sign with Texas. The Gophers have never signed a five-star recruit in the modern star-ranking era (since 2000).
• Westerville, Ohio, running back Jaelen Gill, 247sports’ 30th best overall player, has an offer from Fleck, among his 28 possibilities so far.
• Two of the nation’s top offensive tackles — Richard Gouraige (fourth-highest OT) of Tampa, Fla., and Ryan Hayes (13th) of Traverse City, Mich. — have Minnesota in their proverbial piles.
• Kimberly, Wis., defensive end Boyd Dietzen — the best prospect in Wisconsin — visited Minnesota in February and has the Gophers on his list, according to 247sports.
Fleck isn’t the only coach who’s made 125-plus offers. Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst has made 128 offers for next year’s class, Maryland’s J.D. Durkin 160 and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh 172.
But Fleck and his staff spent their first few weeks on the job focused on the 2017 class heading into national signing day on Feb. 1. Their 2018 offers started coming out that day, and have come in waves ever since.
“They’re doing a lot of catch-up,” said Kyle Goblirsch, who runs Gopher247.com.
Goblirsch couldn’t recall exactly how many offers Claeys had made at this time last year. But Goblirsch remembers the number being in the low 90s last year in late May, just before the Gophers started hosting their summer camps. At the time, that was the fewest in the Big Ten.
“There are teams out there that offer everybody, but if you try to commit to them, they will not let you commit,” Fleck said. “Those are uncommittable offers. I don’t understand those. I am not one of those guys who has an uncommittable offer. If somebody wants to commit with our offer, they can commit.”